Russia is no friend to China. In fact, Xi’s friendship with Putin is a betrayal of the Chinese people

South China Morning Post 發布於 2019年12月10日00:12 • Chi Wang
  • Russia has little to offer China, other than a means to antagonise the US. Xi’s courtship of Moscow makes no sense because it ignores the animosity that has defined Sino-Russian relations since the Treaty of Nerchinsk in the 17th century
Illustration: Craig Stephens

Russia and China last week celebrated the launch of the ambitious "Power of Siberia" pipeline. The project, which spans 2,900km (1,800 miles) and cost US$55 billion, is symbolic of the strengthening relationship between the two countries and their respective leaders.

Russian President Vladimir Putin lauded the pipeline as a "genuinely historic event", while Chinese President Xi Jinping called it "the start of a new stage of our cooperation", further claiming that "developing Russia-China relations is and will be a priority in our countries' foreign policy".

The relationship will be further strengthened when the two nations take part in a month-long military exercise in the Indian Ocean later this month.

Early this summer, while leaders of the Allied nations were commemorating the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landing in France, Xi travelled to Moscow to meet Putin.

The two leaders agreed to increase military and economic cooperation. Xi heaped praise on the Sino-Russia relationship, even referring to Putin as his "best friend".

I see little for China to gain from paying homage to Russia, beyond needlessly antagonising the United States. The image of Xi and Putin shaking hands and declaring their friendship may be personally humiliating to US President Donald Trump but, beyond that, Russia has very little to offer China.

While Russia is a prime target for Chinese foreign investment, would that investment not be better used elsewhere, instead of propping up Russia's anaemic economy? It makes no sense for Xi to promote the resurgence of Russia when China has benefited the most from its decline.

Russia has never given China any reason for prolonged trust, faith or camaraderie. Xi is naive if he expects any of these from Putin

While the new, close relationship may seem to make sense, given their increasingly strained relations with the US, history tells a different story. To me, Xi's behaviour is a betrayal of his people.

The courtship of Russia ignores the animosity that has more often than not defined Sino-Russian relations. The first ever treaty between China and Russia, the Treaty of Nerchinsk, came about in 1689 as a result of Russian encroachment on Chinese territory in the Qing dynasty.

While the treaty set the border between the Russian Far East and northeast China, Russian expansionism in the region never fully tapered off.

In the 1850s, while China was preoccupied because of the Second Opium War, Russia sent thousands of men down the Amur River into Manchuria. Russia annexed a large swathe of territory that now makes up present-day Siberia, legitimising its sovereignty through the Treaty of Peking signed in 1860.

This was among the unequal treaties China was manipulated into signing in the late 19th century. Yet, while the Chinese leadership plays up the narrative of the "century of humiliation" that these treaties facilitated, Russia's role as one of the foreign aggressors has been overlooked.

Russia brought war to China in 1904, when the Japanese attacked Russian-controlled Port Arthur in Manchuria, where Russian influence had been extending. The Russo-Japanese war would claim the lives of an estimated 20,000 Chinese civilians.

As a result of Russia's defeat, Japan gained control of Port Arthur and parts of southern Manchuria. In 1929, the Soviets sought control of the Chinese Eastern Railway in Manchuria. A Chinese force commanded by my father was defeated in Harbin, and the Soviets gained control of the railway.

China's record in honouring agreements smacks of cherry-picking

When I was growing up in China in the 1930s, everyone seemed suspicious of Russia. Although I witnessed China under Japanese occupation, I would later find the Soviet Union's actions in the last days of the second world war and afterwards to be worse.

Joseph Stalin and an ailing Franklin D. Roosevelt met at Yalta in 1945, where Roosevelt granted Stalin's requests to essentially reverse Russian territorial losses from the Russo-Japanese War.

A secret protocol recognised an independent Outer Mongolia, gave Russia a lease on Port Arthur and an interest in the Southern Manchurian and Chinese Eastern railways, all without the consent or awareness of their supposed ally, Chiang Kai-shek.

The Soviets who invaded Manchuria committed atrocities like the Japanese did across China during the war, and subsequently seized every bit of the Japanese industrial infrastructure they could and sent it back to the Soviet Union before retreating.

They set up a client state in Mongolia, which initiated a border conflict that lasted for over a year. Stalin also supported the Uygur separatist movement in Xinjiang.

Despite the Western perception of a monolithic communist bloc, Sino-Soviet relations remained tense for decades; Mao despised Stalin, and despite the strategic rationale for maintaining close Sino-Soviet relations, he instead brought about the Sino-Soviet split in the 1950s.

The two countries fought a border war along the Ussuri River in 1969, which became the impetus for Richard Nixon's opening to China in the early 1970s.

Considering the broader sweep of history, the Sino-Russian relationship in the last 100 years has more often been defined by tension and conflict than cooperation. In contrast, the US-China relationship has historically been one of peace and cooperation, with the early cold war years being the outlier.

US trade war makes Russia an indispensable partner for China

The US was alone among the Western powers in not seeking territory in China following the Opium Wars, and the US continued to advocate the Qing's sovereignty. The US and China were allies during the second world war. It is no coincidence that Deng led the reform and opening up of China just as the US normalised relations with Beijing.

Yet Xi, whose leadership takes every opportunity to remind the Chinese people about their historical grievances, sees no hypocrisy in courting favour with Putin while scorning the US.

Xi needs a foreign policy strategy that can help China achieve its goals abroad without sacrificing stability at home. Trade with Russia will not revive the Chinese economy. It is not Russia that China should be partnering " it is the US.

Xi ought to recommit China to negotiations with the US to end the trade war. That could mean more than simply returning the economic relationship to its status before the implementation of the first round of tariffs.

Lesson from 1868: why a US-China trade deal might not last

A deal that is negotiated in good faith and makes the necessary concessions could expand trade between the US and China, which would be mutually beneficial. Without the increasingly tense US-China relationship, there is no reason for Xi to court Putin.

China needs the US far more than Russia. Xi's cosying up to Putin does nothing to benefit China in the long run. Russia has never given China any reason for prolonged trust, faith or camaraderie. Xi is naive if he expects any of these from Putin.

Chi Wang, a former head of the Chinese section of the US Library of Congress, is president of the US-China Policy Foundation.

Copyright (c) 2019. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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